Elizabeth Taylor, a voluptuous violet-eyed actress who lived a life of luster and anguish and spent more than six decades as one of the world’s most visible women, died Wednesday at age 79.

Taylor’s life offered a mesmerizing series of sagas to rival any movie plot — she won two Academy Awards, but was as well known for her eight marriages, ravaging illnesses and work in AIDS philanthropy. Her life had been scrupulously chronicled by the media since her boost to fame as the enchanting 12-year-old star of “National Velvet” (1944).

By her mid-20s, she had been a screen goddess, teenage bride, mother, divorcee and widow. She endured near-death traumas, and many declared her a symbol of survival — with which she agreed. “I’ve been through it all, baby,” she once said. “I’m Mother Courage.”

News about her love affairs, jewelry collection, weight fluctuations and socializing in rich and royal circles were followed by millions of people. More than for any film role, she became famous for being famous, setting a media template for later generations of entertainers, models and all variety of semi-somebodies.

It helped that Taylor was eminently quotable. Distraught after her showman husband, Mike Todd, died in a plane crash in 1958, she sought the company of married entertainer Eddie Fisher, whom she later wed. “Well, Mike is dead and I’m alive,” she said. “What do you expect me to do? Sleep alone?”

She made more than 60 films and twice won the Oscar for best actress: as a call girl who meets with tragedy in “BUtterfield 8” (1960), based on the John O’Hara novella; and as the braying, slovenly wife of a professor in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966), adapted from Edward Albee’s play about marital warfare.

“Virginia Woolf” was a rare critical triumph for Taylor, whom reviewers often found insubstantial or overwrought. As a young woman, she was called “Luscious Liz” for her sensual figure, bright eyes with long dark lashes, ruby lips and mane of raven hair. She appeared on the cover of Life magazine 14 times, more than any other film star.

Hailed as the most beautiful woman of her generation, Taylor saw herself as one of the most vulnerable.

“I’ve been able to wear plunging necklines since I was 14 years old, and ever since then, people have expected me to act as old as I look,” she said after her first divorce. “My troubles all started because I have a woman’s body and a child’s emotions.”

She denounced and courted celebrity. She flashed anger when she was not allowed privacy on her terms, but also went public with her more than 70 hospitalizations for illnesses, including sciatica and a brain tumor.

It became world news as she lay near death from pneumonia at Oscar-voting time in 1960. After winning for “BUtterfield 8,” she hobbled on stage with a surgical scar visible and received a standing ovation. She always maintained she won on a sympathy vote.

She also intrigued many with her marriages to hotel heir Conrad Nicholson “Nicky” Hilton Jr.; actor Michael Wilding; Todd; Fisher; actor Richard Burton (twice); then-Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.); and construction worker Larry Fortensky. She met Fortensky in the late 1980s at the Betty Ford Clinic while both underwent treatment for substance abuse.

Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born in London to American parents on Feb. 27, 1932. Her father, Francis, ran an art gallery. Her mother, the former Sara Warmbrodt, had once been an actress who trained Elizabeth from her earliest years to be presentable in public, in looks and manner.

The family relocated in 1939 to Southern California.

Her father persuaded a fellow air-raid warden, film producer Samuel Marx, to cast Elizabeth in the family drama “Lassie Come Home” (1943), and she won a contract at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios.

In “National Velvet,” based on Enid Bagnold’s horse yarn, Taylor had a lead role as a country girl who wins a horse in the lottery and proceeds to victory in England’s Grand National Steeplechase.Critics took notice of a more dramatic Taylor for her performance in “A Place in the Sun,” which was filmed in 1949 and released in 1951. The movie was based on Theodore Dreiser’s novel “An American Tragedy,” about an ambitious drifter (Montgomery Clift) whose love for a socialite of glistening beauty (Taylor) is jeopardized by his pregnant, working-class girlfriend (Shelley Winters).

Although Clift held Taylor in esteem, that could not be said of director George Stevens. Speaking of their collaboration on “A Place in the Sun,” he said he found it hard to elicit deep feeling from the 17-year-old.

On the set of “Giant” (1956), in which Taylor played a Virginia-bred gentlewoman amid Texas ranchers Rock Hudson and James Dean, Stevens made her wear much smaller shoes so she would wince properly.

She earned her first Oscar nomination for 1957’s “Raintree County” as a mentally unbalanced Southern belle during the Civil War era. Her second nomination came in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958) as Maggie the Cat, who tries to lure her emotionally distant husband (Paul Newman) back into bed.

Taylor won the Oscar for her next role, as a call girl named Gloria Wandrous in “BUtterfield 8.” It was a part she never wanted and claimed to detest for the rest of her life. She felt the studio was trying to profit from her troubled off-screen sex life.

She met Burton, playing Marc Antony to her Queen of the Nile on the set of “Cleopatra” (1963). She and Burton, the dashing, Welsh-born actor, flaunted their off-screen romance by dining and sunbathing together.

The Burtons became the world’s best-known couple, smoldering jet-setters that the public loved to follow. Burton’s advanced alcoholism and infidelities hastened their divorce in 1974, followed by a remarriage and second divorce in 1976. In the 1980s, Taylor became a businesswoman, lending her name to cosmetics and perfume lines.

Taylor saw herself as a champion of the exploited or mistreated, including pop singer Michael Jackson. She helped make AIDS an issue of mainstream concern.

In 2000, Queen Elizabeth II made her a dame commander of the Order of the British Empire.

“You can call me Dame Elizabeth,” she told the media. “I’ve been a broad all my life. Now I’m a dame.”